More than $3 million in debt and another $1.8 million looming in the future, Puyallup’s Seventh-day Adventist Church will soon launch a fundraising drive to eat away at its financial obligation.
Construction began five years ago on the 32,500-square-foot church and elementary school on Shaw Road near Pioneer. Church leaders had planned the project in phases, but roadblocks changed everything.
Seth Pierce, pastor of the 350-member church, said the City of Puyallup required landscaping as well as the construction of the shell of the new sanctuary. Both were scheduled for different phases of the project.
Pierce, 32, said the church is facing $3.2 million in debt “due to the economy tanking and many lost jobs,” as well as the loss of some “ardent pushers” of the project who left the church.
However, Pierce remains optimistic.
“I am confident in our capability and God’s ability to bless,” he said. “But if I said I never worried a bit, that would be a lie.”
Pierce, who has been pastor of the church for 18 months, said the previous school, Nelson-Crane, had fallen into disrepair.
“The congregation decided to demolish the structure and build a new school, as well as move the church from its old location on 7th Avenue Southeast to the property on Shaw Road,” he said. “The congregation believes strongly about a positive place to educate our children and children within the community of all faith backgrounds ... so the kids could have a great place to learn and grow.”
The elementary school, with 140 students who range from preschool through eighth grade, is nearly complete. A couple of classrooms are all that remain to be finished. The classrooms, along with a kitchen and 350-seat sanctuary, are on hold until the debt can be handled. The church currently is paying $27,000 a month on the loan.
“They have made some tremendous sacrifices,” Pierce said of his congregation.
Many who now attend the church were not part of the original plan, he said.
And those sacrifices will continue.
Church leaders soon will begin a fundraising project called “The Nehemiah Campaign,” with a goal to pay off $1 million in debt in two years. If successful, the church’s monthly obligation would be $17,000, “something far more reasonable for our congregation,” Pierce said.
The church already has received some donations toward the goal. Gifts from outside the congregation are welcome, too, Pierce said.
“Part of my task is casting a new vision to get back on track,” said Pierce, who has written five books and has another one due to be published this month. “The church, while healthy, friendly and growing, has fallen into the trap of having the debt payment be their source of victory and accomplishment. And it doesn’t always get paid. Donor fatigue has crept in as it has been allowed to become a black hole of payment making.”
While classes are in session at the new school, church services are being held in the school gym. The sanctuary, kitchen, offices and extra classrooms are just a cold shell of studs, cement floors and windows.
Pierce estimates it will cost $1.8 million to complete the construction.
“If I could have everything go according to plan, we may have it done in five to six years,” he said.
Tom McCrady is a freelance reporter for the Herald.